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PEARL (Person-Environment-Activity Research Laboratory) is a unique facility to explore the ways in which people interact with their environment. It is a massive space – around 4,000m2 and 10m high – in which we can create life-sized environments – a railway station, high street, town square – under controlled conditions, so that we can examine how people interact with the environment and other people in these types of places. We can change the profile, type and material of the floor, simulate lighting of any colour and intensity, create sound from the tiniest bird song to the most massive explosion, include other senses, such as smell, and much more.


Much of our understanding about how cities work is based on a lot of assumptions about how people respond to, use and act in the environment. Many of these assumptions are based on experience over many years and are valid in general, but often the models we use just don’t represent what actually happens. PEARL enables us to study in detail how people actually interact with the environment and each other, by enabling us to test detailed differences in the environment – such as space, colour, lighting, sound – under controlled conditions, so that we can obtain rich data for use in the design of real urban systems.


PEARL includes a pop-up theatre so that the public, researchers, artists, performers and others can see, hear, smell, feel and explore what might be possible in an urban environment before trying it out in public. We can help designers work out how people will respond to their designs, for example, of trains. Sometimes we need to instrument people with sophisticated systems, such as eye trackers, accelerometers, brain scanners and motion detection systems, so that we can track how they move around the environment.

About PEARL 

PEARL is a part of the UK's national research facility for infrastructure and cities, called the UK Collaboratorium for Research on Infrastructure and Cities (UKCRIC). PEARL is hosted by UCL as a transdisciplinary research facility of the Centre for Transport Studies, which is part of the Department of Civil, Environmental & Geomatic Engineering. Capital funding for PEARL was provided by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), through EPSRC, and UCL. UCL also covers the core operational costs

About UCL 

UCL was founded in 1826 as a university to change the way university education was provided and to open up access to the creation of ideas beyond then and the current world of classics and theology, to people who were not able to afford to go to university, or who were not able to apply to university for other reasons - e.g. their religion or gender. The university continues to challenge the establishment to this day and PEARL is an example of its investment in changing research and education and widening the access to these to more people. You can see more about UCL at www.ucl.ac.uk.


UKCRIC is an integrated research capability with a mission to underpin the renewal, sustainment and improvement of infrastructure and cities in the UK and elsewhere. UKCRIC engages stakeholders to better understand and address complex infrastructure challenges through collaborative research, and is always looking for opportunities to help improve situations. UKCRIC has funded 13 cross-disciplinary lab and urban observatory test facilities across a network of UK universities, including PEARL at UCL. Visit the UKCRIC website to learn more.

Describing PEARL

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